The Carolina Panthers hope the fourth time’s the charm against the reigning Super Bowl champions.
The Panthers will travel across the country to meet the Seattle Seahawks in an NFC divisional round game at 8:15 p.m. Saturday at CenturyLink Field.
The Panthers (8-8-1) will seek to avenge three agonizing losses to Seattle (12-4) by a total of 13 points over the past three years, including a 13-9 defeat in Week 8 this season.
All of those games were in Charlotte.
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This will be the Panthers’ first trip since 2010 to Seattle, home of the so-called “12th Man” fan base that set a Guinness world record for stadium noise in December 2013 (broken this season by Kansas City Chiefs fans).
The Seahawks are 24-2 at home over the past three seasons, including the playoffs. Seattle opened as an 11.5-point favorite over the Panthers.
“It is one of the toughest places in the NFL to play. You are playing a great team in front of a loud crowd,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said Sunday in a release. “I do think playing on the road late in the season at New Orleans and Atlanta should help us because they were basically playoff games for us. We’ll just have to deal with it. They are a good team wherever you play them.”
Dallas’ win against Detroit on Sunday set the NFC divisional matchups. The Cowboys will meet No. 2 seed Green Bay, while the fourth-seeded Panthers will take on the top-seeded Seahawks.
If the Panthers are to make it to their second Super Bowl, they’ll have to win twice on the road.
The Panthers begin the week relatively healthy.
No. 3 wideout Philly Brown, who added speed to the receiving corps after veteran Jason Avant was cut, is day to day after injuring his left shoulder against the Cardinals, Rivera said.
If history is any guide, expect a game dominated by the defenses.
The Seahawks, led by former N.C. State and Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson, won at Bank of America Stadium by scores of 12-7 (2013) and 16-12 (2012) before prevailing again this season when Wilson connected with tight end Luke Willson on a 23-yard touchdown pass with 47 seconds left.
Saturday’s game also will be a matchup of two of the NFL’s hottest teams.
Seattle closed the regular season on a six-game winning streak, while Carolina won its fifth in a row Saturday with a 27-16 victory against Arizona in a wild-card game.
The Panthers held the Cardinals to 78 net yards, the fewest in NFL postseason history.
Seattle led the NFL in total defense (267.1 yards allowed per game) and scoring defense (15.9 points) for the second consecutive season.
“You’ve got to have a great defense to get to the playoffs, right?” cornerback Josh Norman asked after beating the Cardinals. “Defenses win championships. So we’re going to take our opportunities, we’re going to do our best and do our due diligence.”
Expect to hear a lot this week about the struggles of Panthers quarterback Cam Newton against the Seahawks’ so-called “Legion of Boom” secondary.
Newton has completed 54 percent of his passes against Seattle for an average of 146 yards, with a total of one touchdown and one interception. The interception came this season and was costly – an ill-advised, backhanded flip for tight end Greg Olsen after Brenton Bersin had returned the second-half kickoff 49 yards.
Newton also lost a fumble in the red zone on a bad zone-read exchange with running back Jonathan Stewart in the first half.
Before a 114-yard passing performance in the division-clinching win at Atlanta this season, Newton’s two lowest-yardage games were against Seattle in 2012 (141 yards) and 2013 (125).
The Week 8 defeat to Seattle this season was part of a six-game losing streak in October and November that threatened to doom the Panthers’ postseason chances. But the Panthers turned things around with a 4-0 December and joined the 2010 Seahawks as the only division winners in NFL history to finish with a losing record.
Before the Arizona win, coaches and players appeared loose and confident. Rivera last week agreed with the analogy that the Panthers are playing with house money.
“Our biggest thing was just to get in,” Newton said. “Through hell or high water, we just wanted to find a way to get into the playoffs and see what else happens after that.”